Barry Bonds basked in hometown adulation Friday during a celebration where he received the key to the city and heard not a mention of the steroid controversy that has dogged his pursuit of the all-time home run record.
Bonds was joined on stage by family, teammates, politicians and Giants greats Willie McCovey and Willie Mays.
The sometimes prickly slugger smiled broadly as he thanked his parents, Mayor Gavin Newsom, team owner Peter Magowan and especially the Giants faithful.
"Love was giving me that strength," Bonds said.
"You the fans, the city of San Francisco - that is why I'm the player I am
With throngs in Giants black-and-orange cheering their hero, the lovefest differed sharply from the scathing insults heaped on Bonds
at rival ballparks before his unprecedented 756th career home run Aug. 7.
Across the country, Bonds has faced detractors wielding placards inscribed with asterisks - baseball-fan shorthand for the belief that his record is hopelessly tainted by allegations of steroid abuse.
"Everybody in San Francisco is afraid to say anything bad about Barry," said Stephen Quirk, 33, a San Francisco resident originally from Boston who still roots for the Red Sox.
"If you go to any other city, it's like the complete opposite."
In San Francisco on Friday, there wasn't an asterisk in sight.
But even among Bonds supporters in the crowd, an undercurrent of
disenchantment was in evidence - if not with the record-holder himself, then with a league plagued for years with suspicions of widespread performance-enhancing drug abuse.
"Even the pitchers were most likely doing it. Therefore I think the record stands," said Art Gomez, 36, of Sacramento who was in town with his three kids, including a young son he described as a big Bonds fan.
The influence of Bonds' achievement on children was a major theme of the day's events.
Video tributes from Joe Montana, Wayne Gretzky and Michael Jordan culminated with a reprise of previous home run record-holder Hank Aaron's message to the slugger expressing hope that Bonds' 756th homer "will inspire others to chase their own dream."
Giants broadcaster Mike Krukow said from the stage that he recently met three kids in one day at AT&T Park who all said they wanted to grow up to be like Barry Bonds.
And Bonds himself said he hoped his home runs would inspire the kids in the crowd.
Larry Pagel of Oshkosh, Wis., and his two sons came to observe the festivities as part of their vacation in San Francisco.
Each was decked out in Milwaukee Brewers regalia in anticipation of
Friday night's game against the Giants.
But they didn't all share the same opinion of Bonds.
"I think it's just a major accomplishment no matter what anybody thinks," Pagel said of Bonds' record-breaking shot.
"If he took (steroids), look at all the other people who probably took
them that need an asterisk. It's still a human body hitting a home run ball."
But Pagel's son Tanner, 12, wasn't so sure Bonds could serve as a good role model for himself and his friends.
The record books should probably carry a disclaimer next to Bonds' name, he said, adding "people don't just gain muscles like that."
Bonds has long denied using performance enhancing drugs.
But federal officials are investigating whether Bonds lied to a grand jury in 2003 when he testified that he never knowingly took steroids.
Regardless of the truth of the allegations, said Carlos Gonzalez, who donned his Barry Bonds jersey and took time off work to attend the celebration, Bonds deserves to be feted.
"He was a Hall-of-Famer even before the controversy erupted," Gonzalez, 34, said.
"It doesn't take away the fact that he has talent to play the game."